Chicken farming can be a messy business. The chickens are constantly scratching about in the grass and dirt as they search for bugs and other tasty treats which leaves lots of bare patches in the grass and lots of pits and craters in the bare patches. When you combine that with a record-setting 25 inches of rain since December 1st, things can get messy fast! That’s why I am so glad that we decided to undertake our major pasture rotation project last fall. Had we not moved all of the chickens off of the upper pasture, I’m sure it would be a muddy disaster by now. The upper pasture had gotten pretty worn out and was in need of some rest and rejuvenation. When we got the chickens for the farm back in 2012, safety was our number one priority. We built a fence around the upper pasture that was designed to keep out all manner of predators. We did this by using hundreds of landscape staples to attach chicken wire on top of the ground along the outside edge of the fence to prevent predators from digging under the fence. We also hung a net over the entire top of the fenced area and attached it securely every few feet to the top of the fence with little wire rings. The ultra-secure upper pasture has served the ladies well and kept them safe from the predators that we have seen here at the farm – and we have seen many – hawks, eagles, coyotes, raccoons, weasels, and let’s not forget about the risk posed by the occasional neighbor’s dog (which I still can’t help but think may have been the cause of our banty rooster Henry’s demise). The down side to the ultra-secure fenced upper pasture is that it is not large enough to rotate the pasture with the 25 – 30 chickens that were living on it. They wanted to use every bit of that pasture, and of course I let them. So after 2-1/2 years of use, the upper pasture was a bit worse for the wear.
Last fall we took all of the chickens off the upper pasture. We moved half of the chickens down to the lower pasture in the front yard where they have settled in fairly well with the turkeys and Ramon and his ladies. We set up a temporary fenced area adjacent to the upper pasture for our favorite ladies, where we could keep a close eye on them since they would be in a less secure area until we get the pasture project complete. We rototilled and seeded the upper pasture, and the new grass is coming in nicely. It’s still not quite ready to put the ladies back on the young grass in the upper pasture, and after four months in their temporary pasture it was looking a bit worn out too. I had been thinking that it was time for fresh pasture for a couple of weeks, and when the ladies started poking their heads through the fence to graze on the other side, we knew it was time for phase two of the pasture project. On several of these recent nice warm days, instead of getting the garden and greenhouse ready for spring, we’ve been disassembling the net, fence, and buried chicken wire around the upper pasture. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, we have spent many hours wishing we had not gone to quite as great lengths with our security measures. Don’t get me wrong, safety is still a high priority, but being able to rotate pasture is just as important to the health and safety of the flock.
We’ve learned a few things over the years about caring for and keeping our chickens safe. Perhaps the greatest invention known to chicken-keepers is the automatic chicken door opener which opens slightly after dawn to let everyone out of the coop in the morning, and closes slightly before sunset. As long as everyone gets in the coop before the door closes, which they always have with one exception, the chickens are safe in their coop at night even if we are not home at dusk to close them up. At $200 each, the automatic door openers are an investment, but the peace of mind they give me if I need to be away from the farm is worth it. We’ve also learned that the movable electric poultry netting we have in the lower pasture allows us to keep the ladies safe while also being able to rotate pasture and mow the grass more easily when we need to. We’ve decided to switch to the movable electric poultry netting in the upper pasture, which we will use in combination with some level of aerial protection from flying predators. There are several tall trees very close to the upper pasture, and we’ve had several low hawk fly-overs of the upper pasture, so we need to continue to provide some measure of protection from aerial predators. With the old upper pasture fence now removed, we are about ready to set up the movable electric poultry netting in the upper pasture, and hopefully this new system will make it easier for us to make sure the ladies’ grass is always greener.